Film reviews

The Amityville Horror, Dir; Andrew Douglas, Cert; 15

George and Cathy Lutz (Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George), with Cathy’s three children in tow, move into a house where, just a year before, Ronald DeFeo killed his parents and four siblings, claiming the voices told him to do it.  The couple are fully aware of the massacre, but, as George puts it, “Houses don’t kill people, people kill people”.  He’s half right, anyway.  The younger son Michael (Jimmy Bennett) gets scared at night; the daughter Chelsea (Chloe Moretz) makes friends with the dead girl who lives in her closet; and the older son Billy (Jesse James) gets targeted for discipline by the increasingly unstable George. Meanwhile Cathy tries to hold her family together as they fall apart.

A word of warning: The film begins by claiming to be “based on the true story”.  I wouldn’t take this bit too seriously. There is a sizeable debate surrounding the issue of whether the events the original book portray, actually happened or were made up by the Lutz’s to make some money.  I’m not going to take a side in that debate.  The reason I say to take the claim with a pinch of salt is that the real George Lutz has spoken out against this version of the film saying that it’s “something formed in the minds of others not concerned with anything more than box office numbers and self import." In other words, if you want an accurate depiction of the events the Lutz’s wrote about you’d better watch the original 1979 film.

This film has nothing much new to offer if you’ve seen a ‘haunted house’ horror film before, particularly as it’s a remake of a film 26 years old.  The plot and direction are horror-by-numbers, these twists are more like small bends and you quickly forget that the film is set in the mid-1970’s, as no effort is made to maintain the period setting except a home movie which could have come out of the 1990s. That said, the acting stands out well, partly due to the poor quality of the rest of the film but mainly because the two leads in particular have a very good go at making this film watch-able. And I think they succeed - just. Though she spends a fair portion of the film running and screaming, Melissa George still manages to do it well and end up as someone you root for. Ryan Reynolds’ decline towards madness is well acted and his turn from all-American nice guy to unbalanced psycho is handled well, so it remains not too absurd.

Night-time is traditionally far more dangerous than day in horror films, particularly if the weather is bad, so the protagonists here must be relieved that the final night seems to last no longer than a couple of hours before turning back to daytime. The film as a whole is formulaic, even down to the "I must have been seeing things" line, but was well acted and in some places moderately scary (I should clarify that it was scary by American film standards - i.e. it had a couple of jump moments and some decent eerie set pieces, but isn't going to keep me up at night). The Amityville Horror is not a film to avoid at all costs, as it actually passed the time ok and was quite fun in places, but don’t go to too much trouble to see it.  6/10


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